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Graduation Day – Love Your Work, Episode 212

January 09 2020 – 07:30am

graduation day

Four years ago, almost to the day, I moved to Colombia. Four years ago, I decided to become a writer.

Four years is how long it takes to get a college degree. Today, I’m graduating.

It might seem strange that I didn’t think of myself as a writer. By the time I set out on this mission I had already written one best-selling book.

But writing was still frightening to me. Every time I sat down to write, I felt a sense of agony and fear, and I wanted to run away.

Today is my “graduation day”

Now that I’ve dedicated myself to writing for the past four years, I feel confident in calling myself a writer. Since it takes four years to get a degree in something, I declare today, January 9th, 2020, to be my graduation day.

Something to ask yourself as you listen to this: What transformation have you made? What commitments and changes and sacrifices did you make to make that transformation?

My quest to becoming a writer took some big commitments, changes, and sacrifices – but by making these changes, I was getting something I wanted.

Why I moved to Colombia to become a writer

By moving to Colombia, I was doing two primary things things:

One: I was choosing a place where I knew I could build routines I wanted to build to do the things I wanted to do. I wanted apply the things I had learned about how to be more productive in producing creative work.

Second, really, wrapped up in the idea of being able to build the routines I wanted to build, was a behavior-shaping constraint: By moving to Colombia, I was also moving myself far away from distractions. When I lived in Chicago, for example, I could easily fly across the country on a whim, just because there was a neat conference going on, I got a speaking opportunity (usually not paying much, if at all), or even a friend was having a cocktail party in New York.

But now I can’t fly to any major U.S. city on a whim. From Medellín, I have to connect through Miami or Panama City. What might have been a two-hour journey, now is usually seven at the least. Sometimes I even have to spend the night at a hotel in a connecting city to get to my destination. That extra friction means that if I want to go somewhere, I better have a damn good reason. Instead, I stay where I am, and I write.

Another thing I did to make myself a writer was I started wearing really ridiculous glasses. Friends made fun of me, and some people straight up told me that I looked ugly in the glasses, but I didn’t care. It was what I was going for, honestly. I was using my manner of dress to influence my behavior. As I talked about on episode 172, I was changing my identity so that I could change my actions. Now that I’ve done the action a lot, my identity is solidified.

I was very strict with how my habits and routines helped me write for the past four years. I made sure to not waste any time in beginning to write each day. I didn’t eat breakfast, I didn’t shower. I simply put on some comfortable clothes, meditated, then sat down to write.

For the first few hours of each day, I made sure to face a blank wall (which I talked about on episode 46). I knew the morning was my most creative time, but it was also my least-disciplined time. I needed to face a blank wall so I could be sure not to get distracted. My identity as a writer wasn’t solidified. Each time I sat down to write, I wondered whether I would manage to write anything at all.

After four years, I can finally say “I am a writer.” Here’s what that changes

Now, four years after I started this mission, I declare that I am a writer. I have graduated. I no longer wear the dorky glasses. Much of the time, I even wear contacts (You’ll never convince me to voluntarily slice my eyes to fix my vision).

Each morning, I no longer face the blank wall. I no longer put in ear plugs. I know that I am a writer, so I know that I can write, and I’m not in a panic each morning trying to convince myself that I can write. After I meditate, I take a shower, put on some less-comfortable clothes, and go to a cafe. Even with noise and people, and even though I’m groggy, my writing muscle is strong enough that I can write.

Sometimes I do have trouble getting started, and I want to put in ear plugs, but just as a challenge, I won’t put them in and I’ll see if I can write even with all of the conversations going on around me (It helps, by the way, that most of those conversations are in Spanish, which is not my native language. If I hear a conversation going on in English near me, it’s much harder.)

Many things that I picked up while transforming myself into a writer, I still do. I still try to choose a tool that will reduce distraction. Right now, my favorite writing tool is an iPad with an external keyboard – one that actually plugs in. I still manage my work according to mental states. I still don’t eat breakfast.

But I simply have more comfort and confidence in my ability to write. I know that I wrote yesterday. I know that I wrote every day for a thousand days before that. I know I can write today.

Other self-education projects

This isn’t the first time, by the way, that I’ve created a self-education program for myself. Way back on episode 52, you heard me talk about my $40,000 DIY MBA.

When I got fired from my job, I considered going to business school. Then, I thought to myself, Would I rather spend a bunch of money to earn a degree? Or would I rather spend a bunch of money to build a business? I could learn in the process of building that business, I figured.

I decided to cash out a good portion of my retirement portfolio – $40,000 – and give myself the freedom to teach myself. That $40,000 bought me a year of exploration. By the time that year was over, I could support myself with my business.

And that business continues to teach me new things. In fact, I often refer to my own business as a Personal PhD program. I may not be expanding the bounds of all human knowledge, but I am expanding the bounds of my own knowledge. It’s like a PhD in my own curiosity.

So, I declare that today, January 9, 2020 is my graduation day. I may have written a lot before, but from today on, I am officially a writer.

What’s your graduation day?

Here’s something worth asking yourself: What skills have you picked up, what transformations have you made, without acknowledging them? In this world, we have fewer and fewer rites of passage. We have fewer ceremonies. We have fewer opportunities to reflect upon what we’ve achieved, to throw away or burn our old shoes, and step into our new shoes.

It’s a powerful thing to do. As we go into this New Year, take some time to reflect. What were you once afraid of that you are no longer afraid of? What did you once do as an amateur, that you now do as a pro?

What’s your graduation day?

Image: Maternity, by Mary Cassatt

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